Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Waco Mammoth National Monument

The northwest corner of Waco, near a runoff stream that feeds the Bosque River during rainstorms hid an ancient secret that was unearthed less than 40 years ago.
Waco has Mammoths.
The site of their discovery is one of the National Park Services newest treasures.
In 1978 2 men searching the dry stream bed for arrowheads and fossils found a large partially eroded bone. Its unusual size and appearance intrigued them and they took the bone to the Streker Museum at Baylor University to be examined.

This mural of a Columbian Mammoth is life sized at just under 14 feet tall.
The bone was identified as a Columbian Mammoth. Museum staff members and a group of dedicated volunteers spent the next 12 years uncovering the bones of 16 Columbian Mammoths. The bones of these 16 animals were identified as a Nursery herd. They are believed to have drowned together in a single event most probably a flash flood during the Ice Age between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago. They were found with the elder females surrounding the young as if to protect them.

Mammoth Q, a male
Further excavation has revealed the remains of 6 Columbian Mammoths, one tooth belonging to a young saber tooth cat, a tortoise and a camel.

Mammoth W, a female
Most of the excavated bones have been encased in plaster jackets and  moved to Baylor University's Mayborn Museum Complex. What makes this site so unique is that the exposed bones have been left in place and a climate controlled dig shelter has been built around them.  This allows visitors to see the excavation in progress and the bones exactly as the were found.
It was amazing to walk on the bridges and look down on the bones, imagining the size and appearance of these once great creatures. The air is cool and you can smell the earth as you look over the railing to see the bones.  We have visited many museums and seen reconstructed dinosaurs, mammoths and mastodons. There is something special seeing the remains as they have lain for thousands of years.
There is a Mammoth sized mural painted on one wall of the shelter that dwarfs everything else in the building. Fred stood next to it. He was not as tall as the Mammoths leg.
Colombian Mammoths grew to over 14 feet in height and weighed as much as 20,000 pounds. Their tusks were up to 15 feet long and each one could weigh up to 200 pounds...imagine carrying that on the front of your face.
My neck hurts just thinking about it.

It was fascinating to see the excavation with the bones in situ.
The Columbian Mammoth is a distant relation to the more widely known Woolly Mammoth. They lived in North America but in more temperate climates than their woolly relations.
Columbian Mammoths have been extinct for 10,000 years.
The site was opened to the public as a City Park in 2009 and was deemed a National Monument in 2015. It is currently administered by the National Park Service in cooperation with the City of Waco and Baylor University.

Waco Mammoth National Monument
6220 Steinbeck bend Rd
Waco, Texas
(254) 750-7946
Tu-F 11-5
Sat 9-5

Monday, March 28, 2016

Chisholm Trail, Silos and Other Waco Wonders

The famous MAgNoLia sign.

Waco, deep in the heart of Texas.
We made our plans to visit Waco in order to explore Magnolia Market at the Silos.  HDTV's Fixer Upper is one of our favorite home remodeling shows and we couldn't drive by this part of Texas without stopping.. 
Chip and Joanna Gaines have created a beautiful family oriented marketplace that serves the community as well as providing a shopping spot for the hordes of tourists like us that want to catch a glimpse of the shop.   The Market is beautifully decorated in Joanna's style.  Chip's stuff was all in one little corner.  We enjoyed walking the store and finding gifts for friends but outdoors is where the joy is.   There is a play lawn In the shadow of the large silos with toys like Corn Hole and soccer balls to amuse kids and their parents.  Overhead are the rusted elevators that once fed grain into the silos.    

The play lawn at Nagnolia
There are picnic tables next to the lawn.  They are handcrafted and painted white of course. Beyond the tables is a  walk-way and an L shaped row of Food Trucks that gave us a number of cuisines to choose from.  It was great to see local food businesses  getting a boost due to the show's popularity.   Trains go by with regularity and one enterprising food truck chef gave a discount if you had to shout your order as the train rumbled through.   We enjoyed some gourmet coffee and a couple of spectacular grilled cheese sandwiches.   Magnolia market is adding a garden store. There are already raised beds full of Swiss chard and tiny tomato plants,  a pen of baby goats and in the far corner a teepee with mushroom seats for little folks to enjoy.  There are rumors of a bakery in the near future.
We also took a little side trip to see carpenter Clint's shop, Harp Designs.

The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum was our other reason for visiting Waco.  THE Texas Rangers not the baseball team.   The One riot One Ranger, white hat lawmen, badass Texas Rangers.  The museum houses many Ranger artifacts.  There are weapons exhibits featuring the famous Colt Patterson Texas Revolver  and displays that explain some of their famous cases.   I particularly enjoyed the Prohibition era exhibits and an entire room full of Ranger inspired TV and movie memorabilia that included posters of the Lone Ranger and clothing worn by Chuck Norris.  Fred enjoyed the stories and exhibits that described the capture of real life bandits like Bonnie and Clyde.

Early Dr. Pepper delivery truck
Did you know that Waco is the home of Dr. Pepper? We discovered that when looking for other things to do in Waco. Fred is a Pepper so we spent an hour or so in the museum that stands on the site of the original bottling plant.  The presentation of soda as history was fun and we enjoyed Dr Pepper floats made in the restored soda fountain. We were even able to score some Dr Pepper syrup to use with our Soda Stream.

Waco's historic suspension bridge
Waco is also part of the historic Chisholm Trail. Prior to the expansion of the railroad cattle were driven down the streets of downtown Waco and over a suspension bridge that crosses the Brazos River before continuing North to the stockyards of Fort Worth.  That suspension bridge was built in 1870 and stands today as a foot bridge.   We were interested to learn that the cable for the bridge was supplied by the John Roebling Company, builders of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

This larger than life sized bronze is one of 28 sculptures that make "Branding the Brazos"
There is an amazing art instillation at the start of the bridge in Indian Springs Park  on the east side of the river.   It is a series of many larger than life sized bronzes called Branding the Brazos. These Chisholm trail sculptures were created by Robert Summers and include a trail boss on horseback, a vaquero with bandoleers strapped across his chest, a cowboy  and a herd of 25 longhorn cattle.

One of  the 25 longhorns of "Branding the Brazos"
We crossed the bridge and enjoyed a 2 mile stroll on the west bank of the Brazos with Rascal while we spotted turtles, geese, egrets  and heron.

The Riverfront park was another Food Truck hot spot that allowed us a delicious lunch after our walk. 
Rascal got barbecue.  
He doesn't like sushi.

Magnolia Market at the Silos
601 Webster Ave
Waco, Texas
(254) 235-0603
M-Th 10-6
F-Sat 9-6

Dr. Pepper Museum
300 S 5th St
Waco Texas
(254) 757-1024
M-Sat 10-5
Sun 12-5

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
100 Texas Ranger Trail
Waco, Texas
(254) 750-8631
daily 9-5

Saturday, March 19, 2016

San Antonio Missions

Mission San Jose the Queen of Missions
San Antonio is home 5 missions that date back to the mid 1700's. The missions were not just churches but centers of community. They were established by  Spanish colonialists in a line along the San Antonio River as the Spaniards explored north and east of what is now Mexico in search of new world riches. The missions were meant to spread the Catholic faith which served as the basis of Spanish colonial society. 
Mission San Antonio de Valero was founded on the San Antonio river in 1718. It is more commonly called the Alamo.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission Senora de la Purisima Concepcion and Mission San Francisco de la Espada were moved from east Texas to their current locations on the San Antonio river in 1731.
Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo is known as the queen of the missions.  It's large church like architecture and massive stone walls made it an imposing structure that discouraged attacks.

Mission Concepcion
The missions were originally un-walled communities built of wood and adobe.  They were later enclosed by stone walls as a means of protection against northern Apache and Comanche raids. Mission community life was planned like the life of a Spanish village.  Residents were taught farming, ranching, architecture, carpentry, stone masonry and blacksmithing skills. Loom weaving and spinning techniques were honed.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada
Each mission was meant to be self sufficient and to establish its own economy. The Franciscan missionaries assimilated the Coahuiltecan people whose hunter-gatherer way of life had been threatened by famine and diseases that were imported by the explorers themselves. Many Coahuiltecan opted for  protection and a stable environment  in which to raise their families. They adopted Catholic Christianity and created a unique society that combined Spanish Catholicism and American Indian Culture.

Aqueduct on the San Antonio River between the missions
The river was central to mission life. Water was diverted to irrigate crops with a series of dams, aqueducts  and gravity flow ditch systems called Acequias that are still in use today.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visits to San Antonio's missions. They are preserved and currently administered as part of the National Parks System. The missions are open to the public and the tiny churches at the missions have active congregations many of whom are mission descendents.
It is possible to drive to each mission separately and there is plenty of parking.
The missions are also connected by San Antonio's river walk. We visited on two days and were able to walk and bike the trail without difficulty.  It was a beautiful way to see the missions and to view the farm land around them.
To see more photos of our Mission visit go to our Flickr album.
San Antonio Missions  National Historic Park
2202 Roosevelt Ave
San Antonio, TX 78210
(210) 932-1001

Doors at Mission San Jose

Friday, March 4, 2016

San Antonio's Fort Sam Houston

Clock Tower on the Quadrangle

One of the great benefits of Fred's Military service and retirement is that we have the opportunity to stay at Military campgrounds across the United States.
In San Antonio we are privileged to be staying at the Army's Fort Sam Houston. Fort Sam is a large post.   It serves as Command Headquarters for the US Army North, US Army South and the Army Medical Command. It has been home to many distinguished military personnel  that include John J Pershing and General Dwight D Eisenhower.
The RV park is located on base and occupies land adjacent to an Equestrian Center and a complex of Baseball  fields.
There is a great sense of history here at Fort Sam Houston. The fort has been in this same location since 1876 when the Army Quartermasters moved their supply depot here from the Alamo.  The city of San Antonio was a major supply  point for the Western forts  in the post Civil War years .  The city government wished to keep the  Army located here and donated land on  Government Hill along with locally quarried limestone to make that happen.
15 officers quarters designed by architect Alfred Giles in 1881 border the original parade ground.
The post at San Antonio also called the Quadrangle stands today within Fort Sam Houston and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Quadrangle is an interesting place to visit. The buildings now serve as the office complex for the Commanding General  and US Army  North. 
We visited the Limestone enclosed fortress on a sunny afternoon and were surprised to have to pass through a series of self closing gates to gain entry.  When we got inside the reason for the extra security became clear. The lawn and gardens enclosed within the old forts walls are home to a variety of birds and animal life.  
Fred and a flotilla of ducks in the Quadrangle
We observed peacocks, geese, chickens and ducks, Koi in a pond and a small herd of deer. 

The reason for the animals being kept there has been lost to time but one legend says that animals have resided inside the fort since 1886 when Geronimo and 32 of his Apache warriors were held here for 6 weeks before being sent to Fort Pickens in Florida.

A deer on the Quadrangle
At the center of the Quadrangle is a 40 foot clock tower that once served as a water tower with an observation post. 
There are  two museums on post. The Fort Sam Houston Museum is located within the Quadrangle. It provides a recorded history of Fort Sam Houston and of the US Army in Texas. It is arranged in a series of small rooms that move you in time from the development of the fort in the 19th century to honoring today's servicemen. There are exhibits of uniforms, weapons, flags and insignia from all wars and conflicts throughout those years.

The second museum on base is the US Army Medical Department Museum.. That structure houses Army medical equipment from 1775 through today. It's exhibits include a fully restored Hospital train car.
Ethyl is a Percheron mule

Although the horse cavalry began phasing out after WWI in favor of Jeeps and tanks many Army bases still house horses, and mules in Equestrian Centers. Fort Sam has one and we can see the animals grazing from the campground.  
Fred visiting with Gunny.
There is a full riding program here so we took advantage of a trail ride on Army mules and enjoyed seeing the fort from the horseback perspective.  Maybe if we do this a few more times I won't be terrified to ride one down those steep trails of the Grand Canyon.  I'll keep practicing.
To see more photos of our stay at Fort Sam Houston Visit our Flickr Album.

The beautiful Sammy.
To stay at the Fort Sam Houston Campground you must be Active, National Guard, Reservists, Retired, 100% DAV. or  DoD Civilians
The Museums and Equestrian Center are open to the public. You may access them by stopping at the visitors center outside the Main Security Checkpoint Gate with valid ID. They will issue you a temporary pass to enter the Base.
Joint Base San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
892 Hood St.
San Antonio Texas